Media bias doesn’t consist entirely, or even primarily, of outright falsehoods. It’s expressed through the stories our media herd chooses not to tell, because they don’t fit easily into preferred narratives… and which stories they lavish saturation coverage upon, because they do.
CNN, which has been comically prone to chasing its own tail by over-reporting its obsessions (the Missing Malaysian Airliner, for example) has been going bonkers over an unverified audio recording which purports to have inadvertently captured ten gunshots fired by Officer Darren Wilson at Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Supposedly this recording was made by a man conducting an audio chat session with his girlfriend – a conversation that proceeded without pause while gunshots echoed in the background.
It would be impossible to overstate how heavily CNN has played up this recording – a viewer who gets his news exclusively from this network would conclude it was the biggest breaking news in the world on Monday and Tuesday – even as they took occasional pains to remind their viewers the recording was unverified. By Wednesday, they were interviewing experts who say the recording is a hoax.
John Nolte does a fine job of beating up on CNN for its sensationalism and irresponsibility, reminding us they also played some funny audio games during the George Zimmerman affair. It’s not just CNN, though. The problem with these big social-upheaval stories is that first impressions stick. A great deal of irresponsible reporting helped perpetuate myths about both Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown that have proven impervious to the subsequent disclosure of facts, even those introduced in a court of law in the Zimmerman-Martin case. There are still people who will tell you, with absolute sincerity, that Trayvon Martin was an angelic little boy who was gunned down by a “white Hispanic” racist for no reason whatsoever, while on his way home from a shopping trip to buy Skittles and iced tea.
Those myths build on each other, contributing to the general attitude of distrust which has done so much to poison our social interactions. Assumptions congeal as resentments build over things that didn’t even happen, at least not the way they were originally reported. The media does this to rope in customers for sensationalist coverage, and because reporters allow faith in certain narratives to determine which details they emphasize, and which are allowed to fade into the background. There usually aren’t any significant consequences for irresponsible reporting – the total scalp count from Zimmerman hysteria was a couple of people fired by NBC News, after considerable obfuscation and foot-dragging, for blatantly doctoring audio of a phone call between George Zimmerman and a 911 operator. The benefits from what Internet users would think of as “trolling” or “click-baiting” remain in the bank. So it’ll keep happening… and the people who do it will continue to treat the mainstream media as a sacred priesthood, looking down their noses at pajama-clad laypeople who try to muscle in on their turf by reporting news that doesn’t fit the preferred narratives.